Ralph Goodson calls himself many things but survivor is his favourite.
The 59-year-old beat mouth cancer and has the facial scars to prove it.
“My jaw had to be cut open and my face was peeled back so surgeons could cut out the cancer, he said.
“After the 14-hour operation, I woke up and thought, ‘I’m alive’.”
Ralph sold his successful training business in London after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2005. Warned by doctors that the invasive operation would be traumatic, he immediately retired.
His move to Matlock came later, when he sold up in Oxford and downsized.
“It all happened so fast,” said Ralph, who now lives in an apartment with a view of Riber Castle.
“One minute I was a successful businessman running my own company and living in London. The next I was diagnosed with mouth cancer and the future looked a whole lot more complicated.
“My life certainly took an unexpected turn but coming to Derbyshire has been an extremely positive move.”
Ralph was diagnosed with cancer on his 51st birthday – two months after discovering a lump in his neck.
He was on a plane destined for California, when he felt it.
“I didn’t worry about it,” he said. “But when I got back I made an appointment to see my doctor. He wasn’t overly concerned and told me to come back in a month.
“He told me I might have an infection.
“When I went back, the story was a very different one. He looked in my mouth and said he didn’t like what he saw. .”
Two months later, Ralph was diagnosed with a rare kind of mouth cancer. He was told he needed surgery followed by radiotherapy.
To perform the delicate operation, his jaw would be broken and his face cut open.
The cancer had also travelled into Ralph’s lymphatic system.
“It was the scariest time of my life. I had all kinds of worries but obviously my biggest fear was dying.
“My face would be cut up and peeled back so surgeons could cut out the tumours. One measured 4cm by 1cm.
He spent 10 days in hospital and is now free from cancer.
“Obviously, I wanted to be free from cancer but I knew this operation and this whole experience would change me as a person,” he said.
Since Ralph’s illness, he has worked tirelessly to promote mouth cancer awareness and became one of the founder members of Heads2gether – a national head and neck cancer support group.
Now Ralph mans the national helpline telephone number from his Matlock home. He also volunteers for Macmillan.
Since Heads2gether launched, Ralph has supported hundreds of people. He does not lock himself in his office waiting for the helpline phone to ring but he’s pretty fast at getting back to callers.
He knows that, if someone rings the number, it’s because they need to talk to someone – and fast.
“I know how people are feeling. I’ve been there and I know what it’s like.
“For some people, talking to someone who has been through the surgery and treatment is extremely important.
“They want some reassurances and advice. They need help to get through it.”
Ralph takes two or three calls a week for the helpline and, when not doing that, he is busy volunteering elsewhere.
He has also set up a new support group for Heads2gether which will run at the Maggie’s centre, nestled in the grounds of Nottingham City Hospital.
The next meeting is on September 4, and people from Derbyshire are invited.
“It’s all about giving people the chance to meet with others who have been through similar things,” said Ralph.
For more information and support, telephone the national helpline on 0800 023 4550, or visit www.heads2 gether.net.